[ISN] 'ICE' Cell Phone Plan Would Help Rescuers
isn at c4i.org
Wed Jul 20 01:45:32 EDT 2005
By Sam Coates
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 18, 2005
To its owner, the cell phone is an indispensable lifeline at times of
crisis, reuniting loved ones separated by unforeseen events at the
touch of a button. But for members of the emergency services making
life-and-death decisions, the cell poses a conundrum: Which of the
numbers stored in its electronic address book should they call to
reach a casualty's next of kin?
Now a simple initiative, conceived by a paramedic in Britain, has
gained momentum on both sides of the Atlantic to try to solve this
problem. Cell users are being urged to put the acronym ICE -- "in case
of emergency" -- before the names of the people they want to designate
as next of kin in their cell address book, creating entries such as
"ICE -- Dad" or "ICE -- Alison."
At least two police forces in the United States are considering the
idea, according to the initiative's British-based promoters, who say
there has been a flurry of interest since the recent bombings in
Paramedics, police and firefighters often waste valuable time trying
to figure out which name in a cell phone to call when disaster
strikes, according to current and retired members of the emergency
services, who said they must look through wallets for clues, or scroll
through cell address books and guess. Many people identify their
spouse by name in their cell, making them indistinguishable from other
"Sometimes dialing the number for 'Mum' or 'Dad' might not be
appropriate, particularly if they are elderly, suffer from ill health
or Alzheimer's," said Matthew Ware, a spokesman for the East Anglian
Ambulance service, which is promoting the ICE initiative. "This would
give paramedics a way of getting hold of the appropriate person in a
The idea was conceived by Bob Brotchie, a clinical team leader for the
ambulance service, after years of trying to reach relatives of people
he was treating. He began the ICE initiative in April, but it gained
momentum only after the bombings in London, when information about the
plan spread by e-mail. Ware said the East Anglian Ambulance service
received 500 inquiries in six days, from South Africa, Canada, Israel,
Germany, and several organizations in the United States, including a
security company from Utah working on the London bombings, police
departments in Florida and Texas, and a company in Ohio.
Lt. Robert Stimpson, acting police chief of Madison, Conn., was one of
those who contacted Ware. "I think it's a great idea. . . . It's so
simple I can't believe that other people haven't thought of it before.
Not only does it help emergency workers identify a responsible party
when they come upon an unconscious person, it also helps identify the
owners of lost cell phones," he said in a telephone interview.
Several next-of-kin contact systems were set up after the Sept. 11,
2001, attacks, such as the nonprofit National Next of Kin Registry
established in January 2004 that shares information provided to state
agencies in the event of an emergency. The registry was set up by Mark
Cerney, a disabled Marine who noted that the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention reported that in 2003, 900,000 emergency room
patients could not provide contact information because they were
Ware said that although there are such databases, some charge as much
as $200 a year to register. The ICE initiative is available free to
the 192 million cell users in the United States.
Kathleen Montgomery, deputy press secretary for the Department of
Homeland Security, said she did not have any comment on the matter
because it was not the department's idea. Instead, she recommended
that citizens look at the department's emergency preparedness site,
Ready.Gov. The site recommends that next-of-kin details and other
emergency information be kept on a "family contingency plan" sheet
that can be downloaded from the site.
The site offers wallet-size cards that can be distributed to family
members with space for details about next of kin and additional
information such as neighborhood meeting places, out-of-town contacts
and other important telephone numbers.
Erin McGee, spokeswoman for the Cellular Telecommunications and
Internet Association, which represents the wireless industry, said her
members welcome the ICE initiative. "I think it has the potential to
catch on. From what I've read, it seems to be already spreading beyond
Clark L. Staten, a senior analyst for the Emergency Response and
Research Institute, a Chicago-based consultancy and think tank for the
emergency services and military, said he thinks it sounds like a good
idea, but could have a couple of pitfalls.
"There may be some privacy concerns: firstly, that the next of kin or
the address or phone number could be accessed by someone other than a
member of the emergency service," he said. "Secondarily, the
information could become out of date, and the designated next-of-kin
number is disconnected or you change your next of kin altogether. The
worst -- you don't want them to call the ex."
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